Category Archives: from professional development activities

Anti-racism in the academy work

Just in case this obvious thing needs to be said: I know I’m going to make mistakes in this work. But I can’t let my ego get in the way of trying to work against racism. So let’s talk.

After Tweeting and Facebooking off and on this topic for weeks, I’ve realized it’s time to start *actually* writing about it. This first post isn’t meant to be exhaustive or complete or perfect, but to help me organize my thoughts a little bit more deeply. And I post this publicly because maybe it’ll be of use to others, too.

I’m really thinking a lot about how decisions get made in my higher ed context (UBC) and in my discipline (psychology). In the 17 years I’ve been working and learning at UBC, I’ve seen countless decisions depend on opaque, hidden, unpublished, squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease, kinds of processes that have bothered me since the very beginning. I’ve always known they are unfair, but couldn’t really pin it down, or feel any ability to change things. These processes privilege those who already feel privileged in this institution, and they form barriers for people to enter/succeed who don’t know how the system works or don’t have the right connections. And now I see these decision-making processes as fundamental to the maintenance of systemic racism… at an institution physically situated for the last 100+ years on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam Peoples

I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to recent calls to action in society broadly (#BlackLivesMatter, #IndigenousLivesMatter), in higher education specifically (e.g., #BlackInTheIvory). Although sorry I didn’t see this connection sooner, these calls to action have helped me draw the link between systemic racism and decision making processes in higher education. 

Also so grateful to the people with whom I have been able to dialogue in (socially-distanced) person and online (especially Dr. Amori Mikami and Isobel Allen-Floyd), as I continue the journey into anti-racism work.

It’s important to acknowledge that I have learned to play these games, to find out how decisions really get made here and to insert myself in those spaces. I have benefited from this system. It did not come naturally to me at all. I had to learn this game because I am first generation in the academy. But I’d be naive at this point to think that being White didn’t help me out here. I could go under the radar, get free passes, was assumed to be “one of us” who comes from a long line of scholars. Also relevant for the timing of this work: I received my promotion to Professor of Teaching last year, which has been liberating.

A few resources…

Here are a few snippets from my more recent readings that have really stood out to me:

From Chun & Feagin (2020, Ch 4 “Reformulating the concept of “microagressions”: everyday discrimination in academia”): “A forward-looking and flexible analysis shaped by changing new social and demographic realities should address the impact of covert racial and gender discrimination whose intentionality is hidden within highly nuanced institutional processes and cleverly disguised in vague “meritocratic” justifications” (p. 129, emphasis added). This chapter also led me think on why the concept of “micro-aggressions” is so problematic, including Scott Lilienfeld’s paper “Microaggressions: Strong claims, inadequate evidence” (2017, in Perspectives on Psychological Science; as well as his essay version).

In an interesting twist, our own UBC President Dr. Santa Ono tweeted about Chun & Feagin’s book last year:

The role of “Department Chairs as transformational diversity leaders” by Alvin Evans & Edna Chun (2015, in The Department Chair),

In psychology: (almost) exclusively white journal editors and editorial board members on prestigious journals is linked to fewer authors who are POC and to fewer participants who are POC and to less published research in those journals that examines race. This link marginalizes a crucial variable (i.e., our science is worse for it, conceptually speaking) while simultaneously hurting the careers of people who examine the impact of race (who are more likely to be POC). See Roberts et al (2020 in Perspectives on Psychological Science) See also

And some key sources that I have found inspiring/helpful over the last couple of months:


The upheaval resulting from COVID19 is creating an opening for meaningful change in so many ways. People are throwing their hands up and acknowledging we have to re-make pretty much every decision about how we do things anyway… so why not use this moment to build better? Do I “have time” for this? [insert obvious answer] But how can I not? When will we ever get another chance like this?

So, I have begun this work over the past couple of weeks by examining and questioning decision-making processes, particularly as I see them play out in my Department. This is not because I think my Department is any better or worse than any other unit — I’m operating under the assumption that systemic racism is everywhere. Instead, it is where I think I might have the most potential to have some impact in the short-ish term. I can use the bits of power and privilege that I have accumulated through decades of game playing to speak loudly and advocate for change.

Drawing most directly from Chun & Feagin’s work, but informed by many, I am identifying processes that (1) lack clear criteria that are made explicit to those who will be judged by them, and (2) nonmeritocratic job access (i.e., facilitated by or depending on who you know), especially when clouded by rhetoric that decisions are made based on merit.

I’m looking these decision making process as they operate among faculty members (e.g., teaching assignments), and among students (e.g., mechanisms for entry into research assistant positions in labs, including the fact that the first ones are almost always volunteer). Changes made in these areas might actually increase some efficiencies while making them more accessible more broadly.

What am I missing? Where would you start? Are you with me? (Please!?)

And just in case it needs to be said (again): I know I’m going to make mistakes here. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking I’ve already made a bunch. I can’t let my ego get in the way of trying to work against racism. So let’s talk.

Reflecting on Being a “Student”

Just over a month ago UBC, like many schools of all levels, moved all our classes online in response to COVID-19. I have not yet been able to write coherently about what that’s been like, though I suspect I will, at some point, review my extensive Twitter feed and many communications to students, to draw insights.

Today I simply want to capture what I’ve learned from being a “student” in Day 1 of 5 in a synchronous online course called Foundations of Online Teaching and Learning, led by colleagues at UBC-O’s Centre for Teaching and Learning Peter Newbury and Janine Hirtz. Thanks Peter and Janine!!

Insights from how I felt during the 1.5h live class

As soon as I was invited to turn off my video (for internet traffic concerns) at the start of class, my attention shot all over the place. I got distracted by other windows, my email, phone… wowza. I had to deliberately stop myself and shut everything down. I got out pen and paper and started making my list of what I was learning. Insight: OMG how are students doing this at all ever!!!!!! I have so much extra awe for those who continued to virtually attend and participate in my classes. Take-away: Invite students, perhaps more than once a lesson, to pause, explicitly shut down their other non-essential devices/apps, and rejoin us?

I needed to move around! At some point I just got up and walked around for a bit. My take-away: Add a “let’s move around” break.

I wanted my prior knowledge engaged! Day 1 was Foundations of Teaching and Learning. I totally understand why that was the starting point, and I knew that going in. And I also wanted to start engaging in applying this knowledge in the online environment right away. There was only so much I could do to hold myself back before I started adding links and ideas to the chat, and maybe that wasn’t helpful for the class or the instructors. I don’t know. Take-away: Give people a place from Day 1 to share why they’re here in this class, and try to parse whether it’s urgent problem-solving or bigger picture (& give resources or a task to those coming for urgent problem-solving?). Add a note to “rules of engagement” for where to put your extra questions that go beyond immediate content? In hindsight, an extra task that could have helped me today might have been a handout with a place for me to identify my own urgent questions, along with spaces for me to note which of today’s concepts are relevant to helping me figure this out. If it was laid out simply, I could re-draw it by hand so I could also be reminded to doodle rather than click (ie help me harness my attention).

Logistics and Points of Process I found helpful

Set-up: “here’s what going to happen when I click…” especially around break-out groups (they’re clunky!) including the abrupt ending.

Break-out groups: Perhaps better for investing large chunks of time (like 10 minutes) rather than quick think-pair-shares. Allow for 3-4 minutes just to figure out microphones/videos and get started, esp if people don’t know each other. Find out if there’s a setting so we can have the same groups more than once in a class session rather than meeting new people each time.

Screen-shots of where to click to find chat, poll, etc, are helpful.

Opening slide with an invitation to draw/play (e.g., add how you’re feeling, identify where you are on the map).

Have a co-moderator who is on chat monitoring questions. What if this isn’t possible? (E.g., limited TA time budget or none at all?) I was reminded of Student Management Teams who could be delegated as monitors, which might also serve to give an extra task to keeners (quick summary here,, see author Troisi’s published research for details).

Rules of Engagement were helpful to have listed on Canvas landing page, and repeated at the start of class. Includes info like raising hands, turning off your camera and mic, etc.

Curse of Knowledge happens with tech too. It’s easy to presume students are fluent in the medium… but you don’t get that same fairly obvious visual feedback as in f2f class if students are confused and lost. Be careful and explicit.

Keep an “after class” open question period, akin to how students line up at the end of class to ask questions while I’m packing up. OF COURSE I could have done this… it just didn’t occur to me (and I was barely holding myself together anyway those days so, can’t really feel bad for not thinking of this before).

Reminders of T&L Foundations that are Well Worth Revisiting Right Now

CUT CONTENT. Everything takes more time now, so it’s more important than ever to critically evaluate every single thing I’m asking students to learn (and how). If I can’t answer “why am I teaching this concept?” with a good answer, then it’s a candidate to cut. (omg this also feels so overwhelming.)

ENGAGE PRIOR KNOWLEDGE. Gotta figure out new ways to do this… without feeling overwhelmed by 200 unique answers that I actually can’t possibly address uniquely.

COMPETENCE = deep knowledge of facts + organization in conceptual framework + ability to retrieve and apply that info as appropriate. Need to support and measure all three.

META-COGNITION is important. How am I teaching my students to develop their internal monologues about what they (don’t) know? Implication: frequent low-stakes assessment.

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM, BEHAVIOURISM. Time to revisit foundational theories. Although it was just a passing historical reference in our reading (How Learning Works Chapter 1), Behaviourism might actually be more relevant in my teaching than ever before! What exactly am I rewarding with points? praise/attention? 


That’s all for now. Thanks Peter and Janine for offering this course, giving me some structure as I question and explore being a learner about being a teacher… once again.

Southwest Florida Symposium on Teaching and Learning

A huge thank you to Bill, Jackie, and everyone at Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern State College for inviting me to open your Symposium, and thanks to all in attendance for playing along!

As promised, here are my slides from this morning: Rawn Two-Stage Exams Florida January 2020 to share and an electronic copy of the handout: Rawn Two-Stage Exams demo handout (Florida January 2020)

I’m happy to continue conversations throughout the day and/or over email cdrawn [at]

Reflecting on the first Seminar in Applied Psychology of Teaching and Learning

In May-June 2019 (Summer Term 1) I taught a pilot course: Seminar in Applied Psychology of Teaching and Learning. Please see the first syllabus for details on this pilot offering: Syllabus.PSYC417.S2019.Rawn.SeminarApplPsychTeachLearn.V2

Course Overview

This course is designed as an intensive, active seminar to help you apply your understanding of psychological science to help other people learn, while developing professional skills relevant to teaching. You may begin to shift your identity from a student to a member of a teaching team.

If you enjoy this course, you might consider applying to become an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in the Psychology Department or elsewhere. This course will help you strengthen that application. Yet this course is designed as a springboard for many future work or study endeavours (e.g., course/curriculum design, instructional design, management, teaching at any level, human resources/training, graduate school, group facilitation, academic

What did Students say?

All 10 students from the Pilot course in Summer 2019 provided rich feedback throughout the course as well as in the Student Evaluations of Teaching at the end of the term. Thank you!

Quantitative results are reported here. The qualitative comments, as usual, help to contextualize the numbers. Students reported feeling challenged, in a positive way. The highlights:

Dr. Rawn’s high expectations of us and bid to push us out of our comfort zones made certain parts challenging but it was welcome, given the standing of the course and the objectives it sets out towards. Really well designed for students who might be considering become TAs or instructors themselves in the future.”

I really loved the sand–box elements of the course in which we were given the opportunity to help build elements of the class and muddle through behind–the–scenes challenges.”

The discussions, peer reviews, hands-on activities and presentations (even though I dislike those) are the most effective parts of the course at promoting learning.”

Great course! One of my takeaways that was not an explicit part of the curriculum was actually the structure and planning of a graduate–type seminar (which i will need for my later teaching).”

Overall, this course was interesting and there isn’t anything like it at UBC right now so I think many students would like it and benefit from taking it.

In planning the next offering (coming Summer 2020 Term 2), I made two key changes in response to problems fairly identified by students (plus one more key change). First, I will not be counting marks for the first Reading Reflection (#0). A couple of students reasonably pointed out that it was difficult to know how to write that first Reading Reflection, especially without a rubric (which I hadn’t created yet). So although I’ll still expect a best effort and will “grade it” accordingly, I won’t count those points. This year, I’ll also be able to give more concrete tips in advance because the rubric exists already. These concrete tips will help address a request by a couple of other students for more clarity on assignments.

Second, I have moved the course material on peer review and using rubrics earlier in the term. A couple of students noted that their peer reviews were not as reliable or helpful as they’d hoped, especially early on in the term. Hopefully this earlier discussion will help improve the usefulness and reliability peer reviews. (Note that peer review scores ultimately contribute very little % to each grade, and they are all checked and adjusted if needed by our TA or by me.)

A third change came from my own reflections on the assignments and grading them, along with feedback from my TA Kyle Gooderham (thanks Kyle!). In hindsight, the major project was over-complicated. Asking students to invent a study strategy or learning resource, pilot it, and anchor it in the literature was just too much (especially in a 6 week course). Thus, I have revised the major project to clarify its purpose. In a nutshell, the task is to take an existing strategy or resource, ground it in research evidence, and use that evidence to convince others to use it (or not to use it, if the evidence is weak/contradictory).

In an unprecedented move for me, I actually have next summer’s syllabus prepared. Of course, it’s subject to change at this point. But I wanted to do it now while the course was reasonably fresh, and so I can bring it to the Psychology Department to propose its own course code. If you’re interested, here is next year’s draft: Syllabus.SeminarApplPsychTeachLearn.2020.V1.TOPOST.August.2019. Feedback is welcome!

Presenting on Two-Stage Exams at the IUT Conference

I’m delighted to have presented today at the Improving University Teaching Conference in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany (  The title of my talk was “Time for a Test! Two-Stage Tests enhance learning and bring laughter in classes of any size” Here’s a copy of my slides: Rawn Two-Stage Exams IUT July 2019 to post. Here is the handout: Rawn Two-Stage Exams IUT July 2019 demo handout. Thanks to everyone who came and played along!

Also, here is the blog post I wrote 5 years ago (including resources, video, and rationale) when I took the plunge into this testing technique.